O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
How to Read the Bible Part III: Law and Gospel
How to Read the Bible Part III: Law and Gospel
Based on Mt. 14:22-33
Preached on August 10, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, Law and Gospel! Everything is Law and Gospel! Go to your room. Law. I promise you can have ice cream after supper. Gospel. Honey, did you take out the trash? Law. I will help you with the dishes. Gospel. This paper is due on Friday afternoon. Law. If you have any questions, I am here to answer them. Gospel. Law and Gospel! Everything is Law and Gospel!
We're back again this week with our summer sermon series "How to Read the Bible." And other than that golden nugget we learned the first week - that every verse in the Bible is about Jesus - nothing is more important for understanding God's Word than properly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Missouri Synod, its seminary and pastor of at least four churches - all at the same time said, The Bible remains a closed book until one can properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. And I would say, life remains a closed book, until you realize that everything is Law and Gospel.
When people say the Bible is no longer relevant, what they are saying is they don't understand Law and Gospel. When people say the Bible has contradictions, what they are saying is they don't understand Law and Gospel.
But what are the Law and the Gospel? What do we mean when we say Law and Gospel?
God works in two ways. He has two basic teachings that He uses to reveal His gift of salvation. You guessed it, His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. They are His "No" and His "Yes." His commands and His promises.
You know you're hearing a Word of Law when it is telling you what to do, or when it is telling you what will happen if you don't. The Law always accuses. It always puts pressure on your conscience. Similarly, the Law is always conditional, because it always depends on whether or not you do what you ought to do. Though it is good and true, it is not a word of comfort, and it does not save.
On the other hand, you know you're hearing a Word of Gospel when it is telling you what God has done for you in Christ, or what He promises to do for you. And here there are no conditions, because it always depends entirely on God's grace and mercy - and not in any part on you or what you do. Similarly, it always relieves your conscience because it is God's Word of comfort. The Word of the Gospel saves.
Do you see the distinction?
The Law demands a perfect life. The Gospel gives a perfect life. The Law demands punishment for sin. The Gospel gives one to be punished for sin. The Law accuses us of our sin. The Gospel forgives us of our sin. The Law kills. The Gospel gives life. From that time Jesus began to preach saying, "Repent and believe the Gospel." These are the two basic teachings of the Bible.
As St. Paul told Timothy, do your best to rightly divide God's Word of truth. For when we mix up Law and Gospel Christ is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort. The problem is that we have this terrible tendency to turn the Gospel, which is free, into Law, which is bound - just as we have a tendency to read the Scriptures as though they are talking about us and not Christ. Haven't you ever listened to a sermon and thought, alright enough about Jesus back then, what am I supposed to do now?
Here's the incredible thing. Properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is not merely some sort of intellectual exercise that you apply only to the Scriptures, it is an art that should be mastered in all that makes you human - your mind, your heart and your body. It is everything. It is about understanding how words effect people - how they effect you. It is about how you speak. How you listen. It is about how you live your life. Everything is Law and Gospel! But you'll have to wait until next week to hear more about that, because now it's time to put what we've learned so far into practice and sees how it opens today's reading.
Jesus walks on the water. You learned it in Sunday School. You've heard it countless times. Let's look at it again distinguishing Law and Gospel.
So the disciples are out in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the night sailing against the wind and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. But when the disciples see Him they are terrified and they cry out, "It is a ghost" - that is phantasma - phantom, a word for spirit - in other words, something more than a mere mortal is approaching them, and they are afraid.
Follow the cycle of Law and Gospel with me. The disciples are struggling against the wind - their best efforts are making little headway (Law). So Jesus comes to them doing something only God can do (Gospel). However when they see Him they are terrified (Law). But immediately He speaks to them (Gospel). "Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid." (Gospel)
So far we have everyday life - think about it. Every day we struggle with sin and doing the right thing - our best efforts make little headway, so Jesus comes to us, offering us His forgiveness as only God can do. But His presence makes us deeply aware of our sin, and we get scared - so He speaks to us. He tells us not be afraid of His presence, but that He comes to be strong for us - to fight for us - to protect us.
Ah, but there's more. Peter hears Christ's Word of Gospel and believes it. "Lord, since it is you, command me to come to you on the water." In faith, Peter looks for direction. He asks for a Word of Law. "Come" Jesus says. So Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water and comes to Jesus. But when he sees the wind, he is afraid and beginning to sink cries out, "Lord, save me." Immediately Jesus reaches out His hand and plucks Him from the water.
Where is the Law here? Get ready cuz it hurts. O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Peter's faith failed. He took His eyes off Christ, so he began to sink. And the truth is your faith fails too. It is weak and little. This is the Word of Law God wants you to hear from this text. God doesn't want you to trust in your faith. To trust in the fact that you have faith in something. Because it is not your faith that saves you - it is Jesus who saves you. Your faith is weak, but Jesus is strong. It is exactly when Peter's faith falters that Jesus saves Him from sinking.
Think of how comforting this Word of Gospel is. Here you know for certain that it is in those moments when you begin to sink, when you have turned away from Christ, that He is right there to save. It is precisely when you are weak that your Lord swoops in to be strong. Can anything ever overcome you?!? Never. For by His cross Jesus has made Himself present no matter how awful things seem to get. This is God saving you. This is the Gospel. That in your weakest moment, when you bare your sinful heart, when you expose your darkest secrets in all vulnerability, your God will lift you up and set you high upon a rock. He will pluck you from the water and cause all the wind to cease.
And then, you will do what His disciples did in the boat. You will worship Him all the more - You will trust Him, believe in Him and confess with all His saints - Truly you are the Son of God!
God's Son has been sent to save you. And He is present here in this Word He speaks. Listen for Law and Gospel, and Jesus will become clearer and clearer amidst the wind and the waves. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr